September 29, 2018 / 11:55 PM / 22 days ago

NASCAR notebook: Bell enjoys Charlotte Road Course debut

CONCORD, N.C. - Mission accomplished for Christopher Bell.

Sep 29, 2018; Concord, NC, USA; NASCAR Xfinity Series driver Christopher Bell (20) and Cole Cluster (00) during the Drive for the Cure 200 at Charlotte Motor Speedway. Jasen Vinlove-USA TODAY Sports

With a victory at Richmond in his pocket and a berth in the second round of the NASCAR Xfinity Series Playoffs guaranteed, Bell was perhaps the only driver who approached Saturday’s Drive for the Cure 200 — the inaugural race at the Charlotte Motor Speedway Road Course — without fear of the great unknown.

Divergent pit strategies handed Bell the race lead on Lap 27, giving him the chance to win Stage 2, which ended on Lap 30, and collect a Playoff point.

“We had one goal coming into here, and that was either to win stages or win the race,” Bell said. “Our bed was kind of made there in the second stage whenever we decided to stay out and win the stage.

“We got our stage point, which will help us in the next round. We didn’t win the race, but that’s OK.”

Bell finished fifth as his close friend, Chase Briscoe, picked up his first victory in the series.

“I really enjoy running the race track — it’s a really unique race track,” Bell said of the 2.28-mile, 17-turn course. “The infield is really slow and slick, so you have to finesse it, and the backstretch chicane is really fast, and you have to attack it pretty hard.

“You get the best of both worlds, and I had fun. I wish it was a little easier to pass — a few more passing zones would be nice — but it was a lot of fun to turn laps on.”

NASCAR TAKES SOME TEETH OUT OF BUS STOP TIRE BARRIER

The barrier at the exit from the backstretch chicane (Turns 11 and 12) at the Charlotte Motor Speedway Road Course was a different type of Tire Dragon.

A far cry from the machine designed to lay rubber on the asphalt during track preparation, the Tire Dragon in the Bus Stop gobbled up cars with regularity during Saturday’s Monster Energy NASCAR Cup series practice sessions at the 2.28-mile, 17-turn course.

Early in Saturday’s first practice, Bubba Wallace plowed into the barrier, destroying his No. 43 Richard Petty Motorsports Chevrolet and forcing the team to go to a backup. Playoff driver Erik Jones was another casualty, bouncing off the tires and clobbering the outside wall of the oval.

Another mangled wreck, another backup car.

After NASCAR Xfinity Series qualifying, the sanctioning body opted to remove five feet of the tire barrier to give drivers more room at the exit. That doesn’t mean, however, that the corner is now defenseless. The “turtles” (six-inch-high steel rumble strips) at the exit can upset a car that takes the corner too wide.

“It’s less treacherous,” said Martin Truex Jr., who topped the speed chart in final practice. “You’ve got about two feet of wiggle room, so if you screw up, you can just hit the turtles and not that thing.”

SHORT STROKES

In Saturday’s first practice session for tomorrow’s Bank of America ROVAL 400 (2 p.m. ET on NBC, PRN and SiriusXM NASCAR Radio), the No. 41 Ford of pole winner Kurt Busch lost power and stalled on the track, requiring a push to the garage from a safety truck. The crew diagnosed and fixed an electrical issue, and Busch, who will retain his starting spot, was sixth-fastest in final practice...

For its 50th anniversary next year, Sonoma Raceway will use the full road course for the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series race. Instead of running directly from Turn 4 to Turn 7, the NASCAR cars will have to negotiate Turns 5 and 6, including the 200-degree sweeping carousel. The addition of Turns 5 and 6 extends the 11-turn course from 1.99 to 2.52 miles. Mark Martin won the last NASCAR race contested at the 2.52-mile distance in 1997.

—Reid Spencer, NASCAR Wire Service. Special to Field Level Media.

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